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Rising Fears of a Weakened Germany

Rising Fears of a Weakened Germany
 Dominique Moïsi
Distinguished Senior fellow

"The reunification of Germany is good news for Europe, not for France" François Mitterrand is quoted as having privately said. In the years following Germany’s reunification, the international press was full of satires of Chancellor Helmut Kohl wearing the spiked helmet of Bismarck and Wilhelm II. It was suggested that, due to reunification, the "German problem" had returned. There was simply too much German power within Europe again, much as it had been with Spain until the Armada’s rout at the end of the 16th century, with France between Louis XIV and Napoleon, and previously in Germany from 1871 to 1945.

Too powerful and dynamic economically, too strong demographically - almost too good a pupil in the Transatlantic school - Germany was no longer just a source of irritation but had become, yet again, a source of concern. The 1985 speech (four years before the fall of the Berlin Wall) given by the President of the Federal Republic, Richard von Weizsäcker, where he said that Germany had not been defeated on May 8, 1945 - but rather had been freed from an inhumane and criminal regime - had been forgotten.

With Konrad Adenauer, Germany normalized its relations with Western Europe and had acted similarly towards Eastern Europe with Willy Brandt as Chancellor. With von Weizsäcker’s speech, Germany normalized its relationship with itself - a normalcy that could only be achieved through the most severe yet thoughtful self-criticism.

A Vital Election

This speech is worth remembering as Germany moves towards a decisive moment for its future: the September 26 elections. Germany’s neighbors and partners are well aware of the importance of this vote. Their concerns, however, are the exact opposite of what they could have been thirty years ago. This is particularly the case in France. The fear of an overtly strong Germany dominating Europe has been replaced with fears of a weak German leadership, unable to fulfill the international role now expected of it. In other words, we have moved from the anxiety of "too much" Germany to "less" Germany, which would also mean "less Europe."

We have moved from the anxiety of "too much" Germany to "less" Germany, which would also mean "less Europe."

After the long reign of Angela Merkel, such fear is only natural, as it will be difficult for whoever succeeds "Mutti." Debate over Merkel’s legacy is fierce, and will most likely prevail. However, this is not the case with Merkel herself. As the first woman to lead Germany, she has continued to demonstrate her lucidity, dignity, and skills as a moderator, as well as her sense of humor. Her reputation has spread worldwide.

The French presidential candidate Valérie Pécresse presents herself as "two-thirds Merkel, one-third Thatcher." In Germany, paradoxically, it is SPD candidate Olaf Scholz who has been able to benefit from a continuing thirst for Angela Merkel’s reassuring-even consensual-personality.He presents himself as the most obvious successor to the chancellor, a true candidate of continuity. This in itself is no real surprise, given Merkel’s almost "social democratic" orientation and the concerted attempts by Scholz to moderate towards the center.

Defense Issues 

But there is one key area-and this is the heart of the problem-where the SPD has done little or nothing, and that is defense. Defense policy remains largely absent from the program of a party that is still dominated by a line that continues to flirt with anti-militarism. How can we emphasize the need for continuity while history keeps knocking on the door, causing more disruptions than continuities, particularly in the geopolitical sphere?

In 1991, the fear of an overly strong Germany was outdated, almost anachronistic. In reality, what was there to fear from Germany, at a time when "the hyperpower America" (to quote Hubert Védrine) was so dominant? In 2021, nevertheless, the fear of a geopolitically absent Germany, even as it remains a huge economic power, is far more justified. In fact, there continues to be a significant gap between German development and development of the rest of the world.

There is one key area-and this is the heart of the problem-where the SPD has done little or nothing, and that is defense. 

Of course-and perhaps most importantly - the dominant political values of Germany are reassuring. The far-right AfD, as of right now, is only polling at around 10%, less than half of what the Rassemblement National holds in France. But how can Europe rise to its geopolitical responsibilities in the face of China and Russia, within a context threatened by American absence, when a party perhaps preparing for power in the most important European nation remains trapped in a predominately anti-militarist discourse?

Voluntary Servitude

Great Britain left the EU seduced by the mirage of the "Global Britain" project, the vacuum of which was apparent as soon as the Americans withdrew from Kabul. Italy, under Mario Draghi, is happily surprising its old detractors, as well as its faithful friends. Yet no matter how dynamic and energetic Italy is, it cannot replace Germany geopolitically. France is bound to have its own elections in April 2022. If the polls are to be trusted, Emmanuel Macron leads the race, but the truth of today is not necessarily that of tomorrow.

What is more certain than ever is that France needs a strong Germany by its side, one that through its actions, demonstrates it accepts the radical changes taking place on the world stage. Make no mistake, the alternative to a strong and vocal Europe is one that, through uncertainty and division, would be taking a path of voluntary servitude. This is what is at stake in the German elections of September 26.


Copyright: Markus Schreiber / POOL / AFP

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